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In the late twentieth century, a combination of geopolitical developments focused particular attention on ‘the Islamic sharīʿa’ and specifically on its role as an identity and legitimacy signifier for opposition movements in and the governments of Muslim majority states. Positivist approaches to legislative power concentrated on the statutory expression of rules in different areas of state law. After varying periods of independent statehood, a number of post-colonial states promulgated instruments of statutory law presented as reintroducing the rules and sanctions of Islamic criminal law into penal systems otherwise largely based on colonial legislation. Systems of Islamic banking and Islamic finance developed apace. Constitutional arguments focused on the various formulations through which ‘the sharīʿa’ or ‘the principles of the sharīʿa’ are or should be established as a source (or the source) of statutory legislation. In different Muslim majority states, courts became a site for contestation of different perceptions of the requirements of the sharīʿa and the extent to which statutory laws and the state-appointed judiciary would defend or concede to these different invocations of ‘Islamic law’.
This chapter provides an overview of legislative developments in Arab states following the passage of Security Council resolution 1373 (2001), focusing on definitions of ‘terrorism’ and ‘terrorist’ offences. It considers the Arab Convention for the Suppression of Terrorism before proceeding to review the responses of a number of individual states. Moves towards political reform and the opening of public space for dissent and criticism are challenged by the exigencies of the ‘war on terror’. Certain practices in violation of human rights in Arab states have apparently been endorsed by the US alongside a newly stated policy focus on ‘democratization’ in the region. Dissonance between law-related word and deed of the states leading the ‘war on terrorism’ – particularly the US, but also the UK – sustains the arguments of those who seek to undermine the discourse of rights and rule of law, complicates the considerable challenges posed to local and regional human rights groups, and seriously undermines the credibility of international law in the region; the efficacy of all of which in the ‘global war on terrorism’ must surely be open to question.
The US overview of Patterns of Global Terrorism for 2003 confirmed that ‘the Middle East continued to be the region of greatest concern in the global war on terrorism’. At the same time, it is the lives and freedoms of the populations of Arab states in the region that have probably been the most directly affected by the anti-terrorism laws and policies being implemented and promoted by the US since 9/11. Uncounted thousands of non-combatants have been killed by the US-led forces in Afghanistan and Iraq.